Mitt Romney’s big gay marriage punt, and what it means

at 06:49 AM ET, 05/14/2012

During Mitt Romney’s address this weekend to the evangelical Liberty University, he made precisely one mention of gay marriage, saying simply: “Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”

By passing on the opportunity to fire up the socially conservative base in perhaps the most ideal setting, Romney served notice of two things.
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney attends commencement ceremonies as the scheduled commencement speaker at Arthur L. Williams Stadium on the campus of Liberty University on May 12, 2012 in Lynchburg, Va. Liberty University is one of the country's largest Christian colleges. (Photo by Jared Soares/Getty Images)

First, he made clear (again) that he’s not going to make President Obama’s embrace of gay marriage an issue in the 2012 campaign — at all. This much has become pretty apparent over the course of the last week.

And the second, perhaps more significant lesson, is that Romney’s team is not worried about turning out the GOP base in November.

Saturday’s speech presented Romney with a pretty good opportunity to at least throw some red meat in the direction of socially conservative voters.

This is a guy, after all, who struggled mightily to woo evangelical and conservative voters in the primary season, and a guy who in his first run for public office promised to do more for the gay and lesbian community than Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). What’s more, polling suggests some independents and Democrats are turned off by Obama’s position, and Rick Santorum is calling for Romney to focus on the issue.

Few would have blamed Romney, then, for offering a couple more sentences on the issue, at least to clarify his position. It would have turned into a major news story, to be certain, but there was undoubtedly a way to at least talk about the issue in broad terms and assure social conservatives that he’s on their side.

Instead, Romney totally punted.

And there’s a good reason for that, because for whatever problems Romney had with evangelicals in the primary, they’ve certainly rallied around him in the general election.

A Public Religion Research Institute poll released last week showed Romney’s favorable rating among white evangelicals has increased from 40 percent in October to 67 percent today. Romney also leads Obama 67 percent to 19 percent among this demographic.

That 48-point edge is basically the same margin by which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won white evangelicals in 2008 (73 percent to 26 percent), and it’s approaching the edge President Bush had among that demographic in 2004, when he won it 79 percent to 21 percent. (So-called “values voters” were supposed to be the big reason Bush won that election.)

Given that the primary campaign is still only a few weeks in the can, it’s not unreasonable to think that Romney can expand his advantage even wider. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Obama’s favorable/unfavorable split among white evangelicals at 21 percent positive and 74 percent negative.

In other words, it’s hard not to believe 14 percent off undecideds in the PRRI poll will swing towards Romney. Whatever reservations they have about Romney, it’s nothing in comparison to their distaste for Obama.

Romney’s campaign knows this. It’s why he didn’t use the occasion Saturday to talk about Mormonism or gay marriage, instead keeping his single-minded campaign focused on the economy.

And given the generally positive reviews of Romney’s speech, we can pretty safely say that he has played his cards right. As evidenced by that response, social conservatives aren’t yet clamoring for Romney to take up their mantle on this issue and prove his bona fides.

And until they do, he’s got little reason to do it.

Romney and RNC to push debt message: Rather than focus on gay marriage, Romney’s campaign and the Republican National Committee this week will roll out a new message focused on the national debt and the deficit.

To kick of the effort, the RNC is releasing a web video and a research piece on the issue, hitting Obama for promising to do more to rein in the deficit.

In addition, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Iowa Auditor David Vaudt will be hosting a conference call on the issue this morning at 10:30 eastern time.

Obama targets Romney’s business philosophy: The Obama team’s counter-punch will be focused on Romney’s time at Bain Capital, with the campaign launching a website and ad focused on a steel company that closed down after being bought by Bain.

The company, GST Steel, had been around for more than 100 years when Bain acquired it in 1993.

The ad can be found here.

The website is at RomneyEconomics.com.

This is more of the same thing we saw in the primary campaign, when Newt Gingrich’s campaign and super PAC turned the focus to the businesses that closed down on Romney’s watch.

Ricketts launches anti-Bruning ad: Chicago Cubs co-owner Joe Ricketts has dropped $200,000 into Tuesday’s Nebraska GOP Senate primary on an ad hitting frontrunning state Attorney General Jon Bruning and another praising state Sen. Deb Fischer.

The expenditure from Rickett’s super PAC, the Ending Spending Fund, appears to be the latest evidence of Fischer’s ascension in the primary (which we chronicled last week). The state senator looks to have surpassed state Treasurer Don Stenberg as the candidate with the best chance of beating Bruning on Tuesday.

Notably, the financial boost should help Fischer’s cash-poor campaign down the stretch. Fischer has had significantly less money raised and spent on her behalf than have Bruning and Stenberg.

Ricketts is a former Omaha businessman and father of 2006 Nebraska GOP Senate candidate Pete Ricketts.

McCaskill leads in Democratic poll: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) leads all of her potential GOP opponents in a new poll released by a Democratic-leaning super PAC.

The Majority PAC poll, conducted by pollster Mark Mellman, shows McCaskill up 45 percent to 36 percent on former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, 46 percent to 38 percent on businessman John Brunner, and 44 percent to 39 percent on Rep. Todd Akin.

Previous public polling has all been of the automated sort. Rasmussen has generally showed Republicans with significant leads, while Democratic-leaning pollster Public Policy Polling has shown a tight race.

Fixbits:

Newsweek calls Obama the “first gay president.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Family Research Council head Tony Perkins distance themselves from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who said Friday that Obama’s gay marriage stance “couldn’t get any gayer.”

Romney leads by double digits in Georgia.

Obama is up eight in Maine.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) plays it coy on the veepstakes.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) looks to go big in his final year in office.

State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald takes the most votes at the Wisconsin state GOP convention, edging former congressman Mark Neumann on the final ballot. But nobody won enough of the vote to secure the party’s endorsement for Senate.

Former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert hits Texas GOP primary opponent Ted Cruz for accepting $250,000 in a previous campaign from a gay Republican donor. Cruz has criticized Leppert, whom he’s battling for the right to face Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a potential runoff, for the former mayor having taken part in a gay pride parade.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is up with a new 60-second bio ad featuring his wife.

And Democratic candidate Heidi Heitkamp is up with her own ad in North Dakota.

Rep. Chris Murphy wins the Connecticut Democrats’ endorsement for Senate, but former secretary of state Susan Bysiewicz isn’t dropping out of the primary.

Missouri GOP Senate candidate John Brunner is emphasizing his support for a gay marriage ban and the importance of voting. But when his state took up a gay marriage ban in 2004, Brunner didn’t show up to the polls to cast a ballot.

The Senate is asking Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan to testify in the organization’s prostitution scandal.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) bungles a constituent letter on the Israeli/Palestinian situation, calling for action from the long-dead Yasir Arafat.

Must-reads:

For Tea Party, Focus Turns to Senate and Shake-Up” — Jennifer Seinhauer and Jonathan Weisman, New York Times

Senate campaign in Florida off to a sluggish start” — Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

John Edwards endures two-pronged trial, testing his morals and his actions” — Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post

In Mass. US Senate race, a question of ancestry” — Steve LeBlanc, AP

Obama is his mother’s son” — David Maraniss, Washington Post

Ryan budget still an issue in congressional races” — Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post

Is There a Romney Doctrine?” — David E. Sanger, New York Times

 
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